Tucker, Gordon Howard
Centre for Language and Communication
University of Wales, Cardiff

Gordon Tucker
Centre for Language and Communication
University of Wales, Cardiff
PO Box 94
Cardiff CF1 3XB


Strand: lexicogrammar English

Title: The Lexicogrammarian and the Child: Two Kinds of Learner with the Same Objective

One arguable difference between the Chomskyan and the Halladayan positions on language is that the former sets out to establish what constitutes the child's linguistic knowledge before birth and the latter how the child's linguistic knowledge develops after birth.

The activity of a systemic functional lexicogrammarian is not unlike that of the child. Developing the lexicogrammar of a language, as description or generative system, is a constant journey of discovery. Like the child, the grammarian is looking for both the general and the specific. And when we accept that a language may be modelled as `one network of lexicogrammatical options' (Halliday 1987:43), we must necessarily include both the general and the specific in our descriptions.

Each time a child or learner adds a new lexical item/sense to their linguistic resource, they must network or `wire in' the complex set of relations that hold between the new item and the rest of the lexicogrammar. Likewise, the lexicogrammarian, as s/he increases the description in delicacy, inevitably faces the task of accommodating new material in the expanding network.

This paper explores the constant task of developing the system network to ever-increasing degrees of delicacy, and argues that such an enterprise is at the same time feasible and desirable, in the interests of our understanding and description of language. It also introduces a methodology of network development and the move from generalization to individual case. Finally, it re-asserts the claim made elsewhere (Tucker 1996) that a systemic functional grammar can accommodate the important findings of lexis-oriented corpus linguistics in its explanatory and descriptive power.


Halliday, M.A.K. (1978) Language as social semiotic: The social interpretation of language and meaning. London: Edward Arnold

Tucker, G.H (1996) `So grammarians haven't the faintest idea'. In R. Hasan, C. Cloran and D. Butt (1996) Functional descriptions: theory and practice. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.